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December 8, 2010

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Illegal shops play 'hide and seek'

RUNNING the risk of paying fines, owners of small, illegal shops in downtown historic residential buildings are trying to maintain their businesses by playing "hide and seek" with government officials.

Some shop owners at the 70-year-old Jing'an Villas complex on Nanjing Road W. told Shanghai Daily that they had built up an "underground network" of informants with security guards and neighborhood committee officials, who volunteered to tell them when authorities arrive to conduct surprise checks.

The system was tested yesterday morning when more than 30 government officials from various law enforcement departments visited the complex for the second time, only to find the shops were closed as the owners had been told of their arrival minutes earlier.

The authorities first visited Jing'an Villas on December 1, warning the owners to shut down or be fined up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,500) if they were still open on the second "surprise" check.

Shanghai Daily found the restaurants, cafes and barber shops were open only 30 minutes after the officials left.

A vegetable vendor, surnamed Liu, told Shanghai Daily that security guards and neighborhood committee officials offered help because some residents told them that they only objected to dirty and noisy bars, not vegetable and barber shops.

"I've been running the small business for over 12 years, not just for the money, which isn't that much, but because of the good relationships with my customers," said Liu, a 42-year-old vendor from Shandong Province.

"Without my vegetable shop, the elders have to take a long trip to purchase more expensive goods at supermarkets."

Some residents wanted certain shops closed, but others to remain open.

"We are grateful that the government officials were here to shut down the restaurants and cafes, but not the vegetable shop or the barber shop," said a retired teacher, surnamed Li. "I don't want to see the government officials going from one extreme to another."

An official surnamed Han, who was part of the law enforcement team, said that under the law the shops can't be treated differently.

Han said all the shops were illegal and residents didn't have the right to pick and choose which ones they wanted.

According to a poll at Shanghai Daily's website, 27 percent of voters said running small businesses in the old lane houses was fine, while 37 percent thought it was okay provided the government could protect the buildings from being damaged.

A security guard at the complex said he already knew a third "surprise" check was scheduled for tomorrow.


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